I was recently asked to write a piece for T2’s Athlete Blog about what it means to be a Ski Racer during the summer. I had been waiting since mid-March for a chance to unveil another one of my over-long rants that I specialize in putting on the internet. So, this was my chance. I sat down to get started, but after 20 min… 45 min… an hour had gone by… I hadn’t accomplished much. The large scab I received from “super-manning” off my bike had been picked to half its original size and was now bleeding. And the blank word document with its infinitely blinking cursor was taunting me. Besides, what does it mean to be anything ever anyway?
For most kids, summer takes place during the months of June, July, and August. It is a time to free the body and mind from the shackles of the schoolroom; a time to relax with close friends and reunite with those whose lives have taken them on a different path; a time to revel in the boundless, unappreciated naivety of our youths. Or, it could just be a time to sit in the basement and binge-watch the full seasons of “Breaking Bad”, “Game of Thrones”, or “How I Met Your Mother” on some idle Tuesday afternoon.
For the devoted Ski Racer, summer is a tad more complicated. The competition season takes places between November and March, but being a Ski Racer is a year round commitment. It is mind-bottling trying to find the formula for success amid the sea of thousands. Having the right balance between dry-land training, mental fortification, on-snow camps, and relaxation time during the summer months can be the difference between reaching your goals this upcoming season, or having to set new ones that involve going to college… or getting a real job.
If you have aspirations of earning a college scholarship or qualifying for the U.S. Ski Team, you probably have a few priorities during the summer. Getting strong is one of the most important and obvious of these priorities. I’m not advocting for everyone to spend 5 hours a day locked inside a gym. But an easy way to ensure that you are not completely wasting your limited time on snow making tired turns is to spend some quality time getting fit during the summer. What is the proper amount of time? HaHaHaHa! That’s an excellent question. The only answer I can give confidently is — enough time so when you look back on your career, you don’t wish you had done more.
Getting strong is a priority and a challenge, but perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome for many Club, College, and Ski Team athletes alike is paying for the addictive yet erroneous sport.
Allow me to paint you a picture of my past:
I am 12 years old. Today is going to be the best day ever because today, the coaches have decided that it is time for me to start learning to cross block!! I’m ecstatic because all the big boys crossblock, and if I can crossblock the maybe I will get to ski with them! I have just mounted my first pair of brand new “Spyder”, see-through, half pol guards onto my “Scott” “Series 4 Aluminum World Cup” Poles, which are both missing pole baskets. The guards are new and unmarked. It isn’t cool to have pole guards that look new because that means you haven’t hit any gates with them yet. So I take the guards into my garage and whack them with an old broken gate so the other kids think I know how to cross block.
At twelve, everything I thought about skiing, about ski racing, and about life in general crossed through my mind as I tried to deal with the excitement of learning to crossblock. The only though that didn’t cross my mind was that if I learned to crossblock, I would get better. If I got better, I would start skiing more and going to more races. And if I went to more races, it would get more expensive for me and my family.
Like a lot of ski racing families, when I was coming up the ranks as a J2 and J1, my parents didn’t have 15,000 dollars a year to spare on my sport of choice. They had car payments, mortgage payments, insurance payments, taxes and you know… like all the stuff that people in the real world have to deal with. So, I began writing sponsorship letters to my closest family, frinds, and friends of friends in order to raise the funds I needed to continue ski racing.
At first I was embarrassed to write the letters. I tried to keep them simple. I focused mainly on the cool places I had been, tried to include a funy story or picture, and listed my results. Then I’d tell everyone about my goals for the upcoming season;how my dreams of being on the U.S. Ski Team were possible because of their contributions, But I could not make the next step without their continued support. I HATED telling people this. It opened me up to a level of vulnerability I had never experienced before. It felt like lying, because I had no idea if i could achieve the goals i was broadcasting . If I didn’t achieve them, then the money these people gave to me, that they trusted me with, was all for nothing.
I became a bit more comfortable with asking people for money after I learned I wasn’t offending anyone by asking for their help. I would get responses from a distant acquaintance, apologizing that they couldn’t donate but to keep sending the letters because they loved being a part of my journey. Now, in my 5th year on the U.S. Ski Team, I have qualified for the B-Team and will be paying approximately-exactly 20,000 dollars in various expenses. It seems the fundraising experience I gained in order to make the U.S. Ski Team has come full circle now that I am on it.
As I get older, I am becoming more insecure about reaching most of my goals as an athlete, and still not making enough money to move out of my parents basement… or buy my own clothes… or food. But, I realize that I’m also lucky. Lucky because, even though it may be hard to justify the meaning of your own existence to a grandma, or cousin, or local business, in the end those who do support you will become a part of that journey.
Maybe that was the most important lesson I learned from the responses to my letters– that our journey is so unique. People who have never skied will follow us to the ends of the earth. Not because we’re trying to be “ski racers”. But because we are chasing a dream, “the dream”, that we are violently passionate about. That is something everyone an relate to, and something that everyone will support.